E L E V A T E Y O U R F O O D
Have you sometimes found yourself thinking, “I eat well but how can I be even healthier?” There’s always more we can do; from adding in some extra veg to growing and fermenting our own! This is really going to depend on your lifestyle, your time and your budget. Today I thought I’d share with you some ways to elevate your eating so that it is more nutritious and therefore healthier. This is applicable to those of you looking to optimise your own health and those of you with a family to feed.
1) Start with breakfast. I am not going to preach that breakfast is the most important meal, partly because it’s not quite true. Some people do very well skipping or delaying breakfast. However, this approach is not suitable for everyone (and definitely not for children) and that’s a subject for another occasion. But what we eat at breakfast does affect us for the rest of the day. And breakfast is usually the least healthy meal that people eat. We’ve been indoctrinated to eat cereal and toast for breakfast. However, these foods are highly refined and cause huge sugar spikes resulting in hunger, food cravings and energy slumps, paving the way to mood swings, weight-gain and type 2 diabetes. We are told that cereals are high in fibre and full of vitamins but the truth is they are LOW in fibre, the vitamins are ARTIFICIAL and the food is PROCESSED. Instead, choose foods that are natural. If you like cereal, you could create your own with whole oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and crushed nuts. Overnight oats are a good choice because everything is soaked for better absorption and it’s ready for you in the morning. Remember every meal should contain fat and protein too, so eggs make a perfect breakfast. Omelettes are really quick to rustle up, as is scrambled egg –the quickest of them all. Add some spinach for extra nutrients.
2) Cook from scratch. Sorry that it’s so obvious, but the best way to optimise your nutrition is to cook things from scratch rather than buying prepared foods like sauces, veggie burgers etc. Ready-made food has lost its nutrients in the making and often contains undesirable ingredients such as soya, emulsifiers, thickeners, fillers, sweeteners and trans fats. Of course, there will be times when you need to buy a few convenience foods. I’ve talked about this before and I’ll share with you a few things I might buy ready-made: I buy quality bread and hummus and I sometimes buy pre-cooked quinoa, lentils and rice. I also often use ready-made curry paste. But everything else is made from scratch. Making things yourself gives you the control to include only nutritious ingredients. It is particularly useful if you have food allergies or intolerances and if you have an interest in where your food is sourced. Just do what you can manage with your busy life and budget. Cooking in batches is a great way to achieve this. Make a big stew, curry or Bolognese, add lots of veggies and freeze in portions.
3) Add herbs and spices. Did you know that parsley is high in vitamins C and K1? Herbs are packed with antioxidants so you can maximize the nutrients in your meals by adding some during cooking or as a salad or garnish. They can be added to omelettes, salads and casseroles. Herbs are easy to grow and many can be kept in a pot on the windowsill. My favourite fresh herbs are parsley, coriander, basil, thyme, sage and rosemary. They can also be used for home remedies for colds. Spices can also increase the nutrition in our foods. Turmeric and black pepper are anti-inflammatory. Ginger and garlic are packed with healing nutrients and are thought to have anti-cancer properties. Ceylon cinnamon is a great spice for regulating blood sugar levels and hormone balance and cayenne pepper may improve digestion and circulation. Adding herbs and spices also increases the flavour of foods, making them more satisfying. I also like to use sea salt, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice for added flavour boosts to meals.
4) Add even more veg. Yes, I couldn’t not mention adding vegetables, could I? Vegetables have been shown in studies to improve health and nutrient intake. Aside from all the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, vegetables are an important source of fibre, important for gut health. Starchy veg such as sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, beetroot, celeriac etc are filling and provide a lot of antioxidants, particularly beta-carotenes. They make a great source of carbohydrates and a better alternative to bread, white rice and pasta. At least two portions of leafy greens should be eaten a day. Leafy greens contain B vitamins including folate –essential for those planning a pregnancy but also important for brain and heart health. Leafy greens also contain beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium, calcium and vitamin C. They are lower in starch, so less filling but contain plenty of fibre which is good for our digestion. Examples of leafy greens include kale, spinach, cabbages including Savoy and spring greens, rocket and watercress. Aim for about 7 portions of veg per day (not including white potatoes), including for children. Encourage children to eat a rainbow of coloured vegetables across the day or week. You could get the children to colour in parts of a rainbow as they eat each different colour.
5) Eat mindfully. This might seem an odd choice but it is important to develop awareness around food choices and eating habits. Some of you may have noticed that you comfort-eat or eat out of habit or boredom. It’s important to pay attention to this because it can lead to eating too much or too often, which may cause long-term digestive problems, weight-gain, poor food choices and tooth decay. We need to recognise the difference between when we are truly hungry and when we just feel like eating something. With regards to comfort eating, it might be useful to identify triggers and try to address the root of the issue. Instead of reaching for food in times of need, can you call a friend, take a walk or do some breathing exercises? It is also useful to guide children to be mindful of their eating habits –especially older children who walk to school or have access to a tuck shop. Rather than lecture them about not eating sweets and fizzy drinks, talk to them about the effects of these foods on their moods, energy, concentration and hormones (spots and acne!) Snacking is one of the main reasons children of all ages do not have a good appetite for their proper meals at home. Another aspect of mindful eating is chewing our food carefully and not wolfing down our meals. Chewing thoroughly aids digestion and absorption and also gives our bodies the correct signals regarding hunger and fullness. Eating around a table as a family instead of in front of the television is also helpful for recognising fullness cues and studies show that eating as a family leads to overall better food choices and better family relationships.